Sep. 30, 2001


by W. S. Merwin

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: “Yesterday,” by W.S. Merwin from Opening the Hand (Atheneum).


My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time

he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know
though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

It's the Feast Day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of scholars and librarians. Jerome was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in the year 347. After a dream in which he was rebuked by a divine judge, he resolved to devote himself to the study of scripture, fled into the desert, and began learning Hebrew. His Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, was completed in 385, and was adopted by the Catholic Church as its authorized text in 1546.

It’s the birthday of writer W. D. Ehrhart, born in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania (1948). He enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17, went to Vietnam, and since has written many poems and books about his experience in Vietnam, including Ordinary Lives: Platoon 10-05 and The Vietnam War.

It’s the birthday of poet Larry Levis in Fresno, California (1946), author of The Afterlife and Elegy, which came out after his death at the age of 49.

On this day in 1933, the National Barn Dance went on the air over station WLS in Chicago.

It's the birthday of poet, translator, and environmental activist W. S. Merwin, born in New York City (1927). After graduating from Princeton, he lived for a year on the Spanish island of Majorca, where he tutored the son of poet Robert Graves. His first book of poems, A Mask for Janus, was published in 1952. A later collection, The Carrier of Ladders, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971. He has translated Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish poetry, as well as Dante's Purgatorio.

It’s the birthday of novelist Truman Capote, born in New Orleans (1924), the son of a salesman and a beauty queen. He was raised by elderly aunts in Alabama. He quit school at 17, got a job in New York, and two years later, his novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was published. He also wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and his biggest best seller was In Cold Blood, which was about the murder in 1959 of four members of a Kansas farm family.

It’s the birthday of novelist Michael Innes, born in Edinburgh (1906). He wrote about 50 mysteries, many starring the detective John Appleby who quotes poems and seldom takes fingerprints.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »